Monday, February 9, 2015

Bern Burn

You can't expect to live in a place called Bern and come out unscathed.

I just didn't think it would be literal.

Luckily my drama is only hair-related. First-World problem; believe me, I know. But still.

For the past eight and a half months since moving here I have been on a quest to find the perfect  a serviceable hair salon.

The first place I tried, a block away from work and frequented by several colleagues, seemed like it would be the perfect fit. True, they are one of the more expensive local salons, but not by much. About USD $110 for a wash, trim, and style. Yes, prices here are insane. Long story short, great head massage, too short of a "trim" (more of a cut, but then at least I got my money's worth?), and the well-intentioned stylist had no clue how to style my hair.

My second attempt was at a well-recommended, in-home salon of an American lady. Surely she would understand my hair! With relief I settled into her chair and in our reflections confided how the last place I went just "didn't get it."

Perhaps I spoke too soon. Perhaps I should have listened when she said that most Swiss women, with their active lifestyles and bike helmets donned on the way out of the salon for the cycle back to work, left with wet heads and didn't seem to care about the styling part of the appointment. Yes, I should have heard that as a warning.

Because despite my near-OCD repetition of the fact that "I like my hair as flat and as straight as possible," once she brandished that hair dryer sans round brush, and started commenting on the body and fluffiness of my hair, I knew it was all over.

Because, you see, with naturally curly, hair, as soon as you give said hair license to defy gravity, you will never get it to come back down.

Oh yes indeed, it will have volume, volume for days. It will be "so cute" and as "darling" as a freshly coiffed Pomeranian. I was frankly so astounded by her complete left turn from what I clearly requested, and so dumbfounded by how mythically proportioned my hair had become, I just watched in the mirror, eyes wide, frozen half-smile, as she then coaxed even more feats of physics from my hair and proceeded to tease pseudo-spikes into it with product.

It was incredible (one of my more optimistic colleagues said it looked like something you might see on the runway) and I realized too late why her clients left with wet heads. The cut was decent but the styling was horrendous. To her credit, her other clients that I know have long hair, she seems adept at blowouts for long hair. All told this too was around USD $100.

Door No. 3. The recommended train station salon. Sounds sketchball, but located in a trendy, upscale salon on one of the upper levels of the main train station. But no dice.

First, although I requested an English-speaking stylist when I made the appt., I got a non-English speaking stylist, and an English-speaking stylist who stopped by to translate the initial consultation discussion (wherein I threw out the idea of getting crazy with a Rhianna-esque shaved side of the head (an "undercut"; YOLO).

The translator stylist seemed excited about it. But when she conveyed my idea in German (or Swiss German?) to my stylist, the latter responded with vigorous head shaking and "Nein, nein" (No, no). Hmm. So the customer is definitely not always right.

Well, I still gave them a chance. The head massage was nice, and she had a better idea of how to work a round brush while blow drying. But I need a flat iron and that's just not something they do here, strangely enough.

Apart from that, even before I left the chair I knew something was wrong with the cut. I could see a distinct overhang of the length on one side of my head. I asked her to even it out, and I thought the problem was solved

But no. I like to call this my Matt Damon era, for I ended up with a distinctly circa late-'90s Matt Damon bowl cut.

Just like this.

It's still a running joke in my office.

Six weeks later we're at stylist No.4. Another colleague recommendation. A very hip yet cozy, Gustav Klimt-inspired salon in a convenient location. 

I think I will stick with this one for the cut. She did a great job eliminating the bowl and cutting the back short so I can start to let the top grow out (I am done with paying upwards of $100 every 6 weeks to keep up this short style). She even offered to let me come in a few weeks after to trim the back again free of charge!

The downside again was the styling. The fatal error of the willy-nilly, non-purposeful hair drying (i.e. the shortest route to looking like a Pomeranian). At least I was very firm about her using a brush to try to straighten and impart gravity to the hair while drying it. Again, curiously, no flat iron in the salon. She said they really just have zero demand for it here. Bonus points though when she used and then gave me little sample bottles of Schwarzkopf Miracle Oil and Barbary Fig oil products. They smell amazing and delicious and I will be buying some -- online, not for the 200% markup here.

But instead of being satisfied with a place to at least cut, if not style, my hair, I still envisioned a place -- like my great and terribly missed salon and stylist in Botswana -- where I could go for next-best-thing-to-a-day-at-the-spa washes with head massage (quite possibly my favorite indulgence in the world, after s'mores), followed by a great blowout/flat iron styling.

I took myself by the shoulders and said "Megan, every stylist you've been to in Bern was recommended by colleagues with 'white' hair. Maybe it's time to come to terms with the fact that you clearly have 'black' hair."

I remembered a place I used to pass twice daily on my commute, with African motifs, fabrics, and wooden carvings in the window, proudly touting "Kutz For Blacks and Whites"  (sic) according to the signage. "That's just the ticket!" I thought, and I went by at lunch one day to inquire about prices and making an appointment.

Stylist No. 5.

The price was certainly right, USD $50 for a trim and style! And only $45 for a wash and style! Whoo hoo! Sad I consider that a screaming deal these days.

I found myself after work waiting on their couch for my turn in the stylist's chair. First, the stylist wasn't yet available so the owner asked the African-fabric seamstress in the adjoining shop to help me. I figured she knew what she was doing.

The wash was OK, but she wore loose plastic gloves, which felt weird and seemed to inhibit her scrubbing abilities. It went downhill from there.

She took me to the dingy styling area where the "real" stylist was finishing a little girl's head with miniscule, adorable, prefect little cornrows secured with brightly coloured rubber bands in the front, with the hair lightly curled (with a flat iron, hallelujah!) in the back.

The pouf-ball blow drying commenced ("Really? Surely a Nigerian stylist knows better?"), and I wondered what flat iron magic tricks she had up her sleeve to recover from this.  The one apparent flat iron was in use with the little girl, so the seamstress-cum-stylist shocked us all (OK, maybe just me, but really, why was I shocked at this point?) by bringing out an old-school, fat barrel, kickstand curling iron.

Which she then promptly proceeded to use to burn my face.

This is Day 4 post-burn. Looking better, believe me.

Yes, she burned my face. She burned. My face. That is not the side of my head. That is unequivocally my face. Burned. With a curling iron. Something I think last happened to me ... oh ... self-inflicted when I was about 9, trying to curl my bangs with my sister's curling iron? A rookie move.

And so tragically but necessarily ends my hair styling quest in Burn. I mean, Bern. I will go to Stylist No. 4 for cuts, but otherwise do my hair myself, saving money, and quite literally saving face.

2 comments:

Nomads By Nature said...

Oh my. The cost, the number of attempted stylists, the burn... I hope that your face heals quickly and that your final plan is the winner. The hairstyle is very flattering on you. I agree that getting hair cuts that need a style in a new country can be very nerve wracking. I've resigned myself to knowing that when I leave the hair salon here in Turkey I will not have the haircut I asked for and I will look like a middle aged Turkish woman and I will likely be insulted a few times. There are many tears through the laughter and somehow I manage to reclaim my own identity within the week. It just is how it is going to be unless I go back to the ponytail and haircut only during R&R once a year. I'm getting too old for that wild Peace Corps look I could pull off a decade ago.

Parsifal362 said...

Hi, it feels like we have had quite a similar history like you guys: we spend 1 year in Buenos Aires, however thereafter 4 years in Sweden and now as well in Switzerland :)

Alexander at activepeople.ch